Woog’s World / Longtime Westporter gives back
Adam Kurzer decided it was time to give back.
The longtime Westporter had spent three decades in the high yield/leveraged finance field. He directed Romark Credit Advisors’ research team, trading desk and capital markets initiatives. Before that, he spent 21 years at Credit Suisse, including 10 as a managing director. He directed Shenkman Capital’s research team.
He left his house at 5:30 in the morning, and got home at 7 p.m. He was engaged in his community only through his children’s sports.
Like many peers, he’d been involved in philanthropy. But, the Brown University graduate says, that just meant “putting on a black tie and writing a check.”
At the age of 60, that got “boring” and Kurzer wanted to make “a real difference.” He was ready, he says, “to see people’s eyes light up.”
After a career in leveraged finance — and inspired by his parents (his mother, now in her 80s, still tutors immigrant students in Providence) and his wife (she donates all profits from Karma Mala, her jewelry business, to battle human trafficking) — he looked for a way to leverage his knowledge and experience. Meanwhile, he was eager to expand his own skill set. He’d always believed he was never too old to learn, and he was not about to stop now.
Social Venture Partners provided the perfect vehicle.
First formed in Seattle by Microsoft executives, the nonprofit harnesses the talents of volunteers — community leaders, philanthropists and entrepreneurs — to bridge yawning opportunity gulfs.
As a catalyst for growth and innovation, SVP uses innovative business principles and market dynamics to “achieve social good.”
“Partners”— SVP’s term for volunteers — contribute money to a grant-making pool. Funds are then awarded to innovative local groups that address two key elements of the inequality gap: education and workforce development. It’s a hands-on, get-involved, strong-commitment approach that appeals to action-oriented, results-driven men and women. As important as their contribution of money is their donation of time, energy and expertise.
There are more than 40 chapters in the United States and abroad. The Connecticut group is headquartered in Westport, at Saugatuck’s Innovation Hub.
In early 2018, Kurzer’s firm allowed him to pivot into a new role. Now he travels overseas only one week a month. Without having to be in New York every day, and with his children grown, he began looking for opportunities.
He heard about SVP, and contacted director of development and recruitment Marjorie Almansi.
“She had me at ‘hello.’ She’s a real gem,” Kurzer said.
SVP offered exactly what he was looking for: A chance to give back in an area that resonated with him — narrowing the opportunity gap in Connecticut — while simultaneously applying his own knowledge and learning from others.
He joined Social Venture Partners’ due diligence team. They vet a variety of potential investments, gradually narrowing the candidates during each annual cycle.
One of the organizations they settled on is the Southport School. The small, highly regarded institution for students in kindergarten through eighth grade diagnosed with learning differences or ADHD was eager to broaden its reach. That lines up well with SVP’s mission to reach out to low-income school districts.
Social Venture Partners -- and Kurzer -- went to work helping the Southport School develop a business plan.
The team-oriented approach suits Kurzer’s background. His new colleagues are “a wonderful group of people.” He works with the school’s board chair, a philanthropist, and a former GE executive, as well as partners with backgrounds in IT, research, marketing and consulting.
Kurzer is impressed by the number of local residents involved in SVP.
“We live in a bubble,” he notes. “It’s an affluent town, and it’s easy to get spoiled. But there are so many places right here in Connecticut that don’t have the resources we do. Government can’t always help. Finding this level of engagement, especially with other Westporters, is cool.”
His team includes Westporters Stacey Goodwin (the daughter and granddaughter of teachers, and currently a director at the Child and Family Guidance Center in Bridgeport), and Dick Ferguson, a former radio executive and education advocate whom Kurzer calls “my mentor.” Both dedicate enormous amounts of time to Social Venture Partners.
“This is still the early innings for me,” Kurzer said.
Social Venture Partners is a low-key organization, one that flies under the philanthropic radar. But Westport — both its headquarters, and a town filled with high-achieving men and women who, like Kurzer, are ready and eager to give — is a perfect place for engagement.
“Anyone can help,” he notes. Of course, he adds, for those who may not yet be at a point in their lives when they have the time to contribute, “we welcome any financial help too.”
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.